Watching a cucumber develop is one of the best things for a gardener. But I was also saddened to see some of my cucumbers turning up short and fat. I wanted to research the reason for this problem and how I could make sure it never happens again.
Your cucumbers could be short and fat because the flowers did not get sufficient pollination. They could also turn out deformed because of pests and diseases attacking the plant. Or it could be the common issue of overwatering or underwatering the cucumber plant.
I’ll explain a bit more about why such issues can happen and how you can go about fixing things like insufficient pollination or other problems.
Insufficient Pollination Of The Flowers
The cucumber plant is self-pollinating which means it can produce both male and female flowers. Once the pollen from the male flower reaches the female flower, cucumbers can develop. This activity is usually done by pollinating insects like bees, butterflies as well as birds.
The first flowers that the cucumber plant produces are usually male. These flowers don’t produce fruit. The subsequent flowers that the plant produces will be both male and female. Pollinators like bees, moths, butterflies, and birds will transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.
The problem occurs when sufficient pollen is not carried from the male flower to the female flowers. The flowers will twist or die before the fruit can set. The twister flowers will result in cucumbers that become short and fat, or even lopsided, stubby, or deformed. If you have a thick fruit near the stem but thin near the tip, poor pollination could be the reason for it.
Attract Pollinators To Your Garden
Since the pollinators are so important to avoid getting deformed cucumbers, you need to attract them to your garden. This is easy to do by growing plants that produce flowers rich in nectar.
The more such plants you add to your garden, the better the chances of attracting bees, butterflies, and other beneficial infects. I recommend growing a lot of native plants in your garden that naturally attract local bees, insects, and birds to them.
Certain bees like bumblebees are great in your garden because they prefer to consume nectar from the cucumber flowers and help pollinate them in exchange. Planting sunflowers, lupine, and clover around your vegetable garden can help attract them to the area.
Hand Pollinating Cucumber Flowers
It might be that you don’t have enough plants to attract pollinators to your garden when it’s time to grow some cucumbers. The method of pollinating by hand will come in handy (no pun intended).
- Plan to hand-pollinate in the morning when the flowers are open.
- Grab a clean artist’s brush.
- Identify the male and female flowers. The male flowers have an anther at the center. The female flowers should have a stigma in the center. Male flowers may form in clusters.
- Either take the artist’s brush and roll over the pollen in the center of the male flower to load up the brush. Or, take the male flower and remove the petals so you only have the anther remaining.
- Rub the artist’s brush or the male anther containing the pollen onto the stigma of the female flowers on the plant.
This process can be painstaking, as you may have to do this several times a week while the plant is producing flowers. If you don’t have enough pollinators, you may have to hand pollinate each female flower to get the number of cucumbers you want to harvest.
Overwatering or Underwatering Cucumbers
One of the most common problems with beginners is to underwater or overwater the cucumber plants when they are growing. Both of these can result in a lack of nutrients in the plant and as a result, the cucumbers could be deformed, short, and fat.
Underwatering could happen either because you forgot to water your cucumber plants consistently. Or you watered the plant on schedule but the soil is too sandy and could not retain sufficient moisture.
The lack of water will not allow the cucumber plant’s roots to send the moisture and nutrients from the soil to the plant. As a result, the cucumbers won’t grow well and end up deformed.
Overwatering could happen because you’re paranoid about the plants getting little water. So you keep watering the soil and drowning the plant. The overwatering could also happen because the soil is full of clay that does not drain excess water.
Too much water will cause the roots of the plant to drown. This is an invitation to diseases that will cause root rot. The roots won’t be able to supply nutrients to the plant causing deformed cucumbers. If you don’t take care of this issue, the plant can also die.
I recommend checking the soil for the right amount of moisture. You can do this check every day when inspecting your cucumber plants. Just stick your finger 1-2 inches in the soil to check for moisture. If the tip of your finger does not feel moist, it’s time to water the cucumber plant well.
You want to water the base of the plant and avoid splashing water on the foliage. If that happens, there’s a good chance of some fungal diseases like mildew attacking your cucumber plant and causing damage.
I would suggest watering in the morning so the excess water will evaporate once the sun comes out. I would also suggest using a watering can, soaker hose, or drip-irrigation system to water the cucumber plants. Avoid using a garden hose or sprinkler to spray water on your plants.
Cucumber Diseases and Pests
There are several diseases and pests that can cause a drain of nutrition on your cucumber plants. And the result can be that the cucumbers forming on the plant are deformed.
Many different types of bugs can cause spots, holes, or other discoloration on the leaves. Many of these bugs can spread diseases. For example, the cucumber mosaic virus is spread by aphids, which can cause the fruit to have abnormal spots. Other pests, like cutworms, spider mites, beetles, and flies, can cause stress to plants too.
Aphids can also cause the leaves to curl inwards, reducing the efficiency of the leaves. Asters yellows can cause abnormal spots on the fruit, as wells.
The best thing you can do to get rid of pests is to attract beneficial insects, birds, and animals to your garden. Birds, bats, and larger insects will eat harmful pests. For example, ladybugs are great at keeping aphids at bay, but you have to have enough food and shelter for the ladybugs to stay around long enough to eat your pests.
You can avoid fungal diseases by keeping the cucumber plants well aerated. The most common cause of such diseases is a moist environment in the plant. You should avoid splashing water on the foliage of the plant. Prune some leaves of the plant so there’s good air circulation.
You can protect your cucumber plants from bacterial and viral infections by keeping carrier pests like aphids and whiteflies away from them. Always clean your pruners and hands before touching your cucumber plants.
You can also grow varieties of the cucumber plant that are resistant to some of the bacterial and fungal diseases.
Short and fat cucumbers may not look appetizing. Some of these fruits may not taste very good, either. However, thankfully, deformed and misshapen fruit can easily be fixed by a handful of troubleshooting fixes. By making sure you water correctly, make sure your fruit is getting enough pollination, and rid your garden of pests and diseases, your cucumbers will soon be the ideal shape.